Dallas, TX – Kurt Hubler, KERA 90.1 Reporter: When the R-S-R smelter first opened at Singleton and Westmoreland in the late 1930?s, it provided material used in ammunition for World War Two, by removing lead from automotive batteries. But residents like Patricia Stevens, now the President of the Westmoreland Heights Neighborhood Association, say growing up next to the facility was a battle in itself.
Patricia Stevens, President, Westmoreland Heights Neighborhood Association: We had to live with a haze over us daily. Just like a big heavy fog it would come down like black snow. If you had a respiratory problem, you had a hard time breathing.
Hubler: Stevens says removing the smelter is a victory. But now residents fear contaminated dust will arise from the dismantling of its nine buildings and settle in residential areas. Walt James is spokesperson for seven companies who sold batteries to R-S-R and are funding the demolition. He says high pressure washing will be used to decontaminate the structures, before taking them apart without the use of bulldozers, implosions, or any methods that could create dust. James uses the smelter?s smokestack as an example of how this will be done. Officials say the 300-foot structure has the facility?s highest concentration of lead.
Walt James, demolition companies? spokesperson: We?re standing inside the stack right now. This is all a brick, which will come down literally brick by brick. There?ll be two men that?ll be lowered down via an elevator-type system from the top up, and they?ll literally chip it apart brick by brick. The bricks will then drop to this level, about 25 to 30 feet above us right now. There?ll be a padded floor so that the bricks come down - they don?t bounce and break down and come down to the ground and create more dust problems.
Hubler: James says water misters will be vital in eliminating dust along with a perimeter of air monitors to detect unseen hazardous emissions. He adds the appearance of any dust clouds will result in an immediate shutdown of operations. But all these safeguards don?t ease residents? fears of further contamination. They also want restitution for health problems they attribute to emissions from the smelter?s 50 years of operation. Those feelings reached a boiling point between at a West Dallas town meeting last Thursday.
West Dallas resident: The businesses that have had to leave have been compensated, because the factories that no longer live here have been compensated, and we?re standing here demanding that we be compensated!
Hubler: State Senator Royce West, who hosted the forum, plans to bring members of the Senate Natural Resources Committee to another town hall in November, and push for a Congressional hearing to address residents? concerns. Last week?s meeting was initiated after the U.S. Attorney?s office filed indictments against 18 former employees of an environmental testing laboratory in Richardson. The charges relate to the lab delivering false readings of hazardous sites, including the R-S-R smelter. E.P.A. Regional Administrator Greg Cooke stresses none of the samples provided by the lab in question played any role in determining clean-up decisions for the smelter.
Greg Cooke, Regional Administrator, United States Environmental Protection Administration: We do understand that when questions like that are raised, especially in this particular site prior to a demolition, the best thing we could do is to demonstrate to the public that public health is being protected. And the best way to do that is to do some additional sampling to demonstrate that.
Hubler: Officials estimate the dismantling of the R-S-R smelter to be complete in February. For KERA 90.1, I?m Kurt Hubler.